New year, new chance to just say no to diet culture, including phrases that can be harmful to people’s sense of self-worth.
It’s a new year, a time to leave negative things behind us. So let’s leave diet culture talk behind, too.
What exactly is diet culture? It’s an insidious and pervasive way of thinking about body size that assigns a moral virtue to some types of bodies (namely smaller) and types of food, but not others.
Food becomes “good” or “bad” and eating certain kinds will trigger negative feelings, like guilt and regret (or so diet culture would have it).
People are reduced to body parts that need to be “fixed” rather than whole, beautiful people. Food is turned into a collection of calories to largely be avoided. And exercise becomes a tool to try achieve an often unattainable body type rather than something joyful or empowering.
If you’re hoping to get fit in the new year, that’s great! There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to change your body or feel better. But keep in mind that diet culture can perpetuate awful messages about weight, diet, wellness, and how we should feel about our bodies.
In 2019, let’s all just say “no thanks” to diet culture. The following phrases aren’t doing you, or anyone else, any good. They can be harmful in terms of how you feel about your body or affect the people around you, especially children and teens who are still forming a relationship with food.
1. “I feel fat.”
Fat isn’t a feeling. It’s a description. Some people even describe themselves as fat in an empowering way.
When you say, “I feel fat,” when you really mean you feel bad, or gross, you’re saying that being fat is inherently bad or gross. And that’s not very kind either to yourself or to others.
If what you really mean is “I feel like I’ve gained weight,” consider that diet culture wants you to feel as bad as possible about it. So don’t let it. Take a breath, remember that weight gain isn’t the end of the world, and decide how you want to address it, if at all.
Instead, try: “I don’t feel good about my body today.”
2. Telling someone “you lost weight, you look great!”
Diet culture tells us that losing weight is a good thing, no matter how it’s done. But that’s just not true. If someone in your life has lost weight, it could be due to depression, or an eating disorder, or an illness. There’s just no way of knowing.
Instead, if someone looks happy, or has a great outfit on, or is spreading good vibes, tell them that instead.
If it’s a close friend or family member who you know is on a weight loss journey, check in with them and see how they’d like you to note their changes. Maybe they’d rather you not say anything at all, or maybe they’d enjoy some encouragement.
Either way, remember it’s not cool to comment on someone else’s body without their permission.
Instead, try: “You seem so happy lately!”
3. Calling food “naughty” or “bad” or “guilt-free.”
Food is just food. It can fuel us, comfort us, bring us joy. But it does not have an inherent morality.
There’s no such thing as “good” and “bad” foods, or foods that should automatically make you feel bad because you ate them.
Even if you’re watching what you eat, deciding certain foods are good and certain foods are bad is a surefire way to stress yourself out and develop a negative association with eating.
Plus, your “guilty” food could be someone else’s favorite treat that totally fits into their eating plan, so why bring them down?
Instead, try: Nothing. Just eat!
4. Saying “Ugh, I’m so fat” after eating a big meal.
All you’re doing is shaming yourself and anyone around you for eating. By saying this, you’re associating being fat with being overindulgent, overeating, and having a lack of self-control. And that’s just not fair or kind.
If you’re full, just say so. And remember there’s nothing wrong with indulging here and there, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling full.
Instead, try: If you must, “I’m full.”
5. “Does this make me look fat?”
Again, what you’re really asking is if something looks bad, or is unflattering — which equates being fat with looking bad. Diet culture tells us our number one goal is to look as thin as possible, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Clothing doesn’t even have to be “flattering.” You just have to feel good in it.
Instead, try: “Do I look good in this?”
6. “I’m having a cheat day.”
You don’t have to justify what you’re eating to yourself or anyone around you. Diet culture teaches us we have to have an excuse to eat a certain thing, but you don’t.
If you are following an eating regimen and you’re going off-script, that’s fine. But when you call it a “cheat day,” it tells everyone around you that what you’re eating is somehow bad. Just keep it to yourself.
Instead, try: You don’t need to say anything!
7. “You’re not fat, you’re beautiful.”
According to diet culture, the worst possible thing you can be is fat. To be fat means you can’t be beautiful, or happy, or successful. But that is so far from the truth.
You can be fat and beautiful, period.
Instead, try: “You’re beautiful.” But only if you know them. Otherwise, it’s weird.
8. “Don’t call yourself fat.”
Again, “fat” doesn’t have to be treated as an insult. Many people are fat and use the word without a problem.
On the flip side, if someone is thin and calls themselves “fat,” maybe it’s worth a talk to understand why they feel that way.
Instead, try: Nothing! Let people describe themselves how they want to.
9. “I need to lose 5 pounds.”
First of all, do you? But second of all, no one else needs to hear it.
Think about how your words impact anyone else in the room who’s larger than you. Or younger. Children and teens can be impressionable, and how you talk about your body may affect how they one day feel about their own.
Instead, try: “I want to have a healthier relationship with my body.”
10. “Carbs are so bad for you.”
Whether it’s carbs, or fat, or anything else that doesn’t fit into your personal eating plan, no one else needs to hear it. If it’s working for you, that’s cool, but don’t try to push your eating habits on anyone else.
Instead, try: “Shush. No one cares about your diet.”
If you want to make safe, smart changes in 2019, here are some stories we’ve done about exercise, eating, and weight loss:
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